Finley: Oakland board offers glimpse of future
Oakland County's Democratic-controlled Board of Commissioners is giving us a look at what may be ahead for Michigan's best run municipality should Democrats complete their takeover of county government in next year's elections.
The board, on an 11-10 party-line vote, is refusing to confirm the nomination of Mike McCready as the county economic development director because of legislation he supported while he was a state representative.
McCready was nominated by County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, whose success as county exec has sprung from his uncanny ability to surround himself with a crackerjack supporting cast.
In picking McCready, Patterson is sticking to that winning formula of filling key county positions with talented individuals who bring a proven track record.
But Democrats on the board object to McCready because, like Patterson, he's a Republican. Their specific complaints: He voted like a conservative Republican when he was in the Legislature, supporting such measures as ending the state's prevailing wage act and putting limits on the minimum wage and sick time laws. In other words, he did not salute labor's agenda.
"We've now got a bunch of union goons on the board who are going to make him pay for his votes," Patterson says.
"I've said all along, if Democrats take control of the county, let the games begin."
The board majority is mimicking its peers in Congress by denying the executive a like-minded team to administer the county.
"I"ve always treated Democrats on the board with respect, and I expect the same in return," Patterson says.
The Oakland Democrats are following a playbook that has led communities across the country to ruin. Putting the interests of labor unions ahead of taxpayers is not the way to keep Oakland County prosperous.
But it may be the inevitable path ahead for Oakland. Patterson, who has pancreatic cancer, announced last month he will not seek reelection when his seventh term expires next year. If he leaves office before then, the board will appoint a temporary executive.
Democrats now hold all of the major county-wide offices except sheriff and county executive, and won control of the board last fall.
If the the county executive post falls to Democrats as well, there's no reason to expect — based on the way the board is tipping its hand — that Oakland County will be able to sustain the long and enviable Patterson pro-business, pro-growth, pro-taxpayer era.
And that will hit taxpayers in the pocket.
"I wouldn't be surprised if within the first year we lose our AAA bond rating," Patterson says. "It takes a lot of work to keep us there."
Patterson's approach has kept Oakland County financially sound throughout its tenure. It is one of the few municipalities that has avoided a legacy cost crisis, hasn't had to sharply curtail services and has avoided major tax hikes. Still, his critics contend the county's success has more to do with the wealth of its residents than his management skills.
That's a theory that may soon be tested. The early signs of how Democrats will run things, and whose interests they'll represent, aren't hopeful for Oakland retaining its top spot in the local government universe.
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